Carrying out site work safely in the construction sector during COVID-19 pandemic

Blogs 22 Apr 2020

FSB's Construction Chair Roni Savage writes with guidance on carrying out work in the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The UK Construction Sector has been hit hard by the COVID-19 outbreak. Constructionline research shows that 85% of businesses surveyed at publication, have been impacted by the pandemic.

The effects of the UK lockdown were compounded by confusion following initial government advice. Boris Johnson's advice was for everyone to stay home unless “travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary, and cannot be done from home.” Essential workers were identified, but it was not clear if this included the construction industry. Some sites and suppliers closed, some remained open, while others went into panic mode.

Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma’s letter dated 31 March 2020, clarified that “However, we know that for many people working in construction, their job requires them to travel to their place of work, and they can continue to do so. This is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s advice.”

The practicalities of working on a construction site, whilst maintaining social distancing and hygiene rules for safety, have in some cases been straightforward to manage. However, for many sites, they have proved challenging. The industry recognises that the safety and welfare of its workforce is paramount. Significant modifications are therefore required in working practices on sites, to deal with the risks posed by COVID-19, and ensure safety of the workforce.

Over recent weeks, the industry has been working together, to develop Site Operating Procedures (SOP), to provide guidance for construction businesses, for the protection of their workforce during coronavirus. The Construction Leadership Council (CLC) published the latest version (Version 3, 14 April 2020) of its Site Operating Procedures (SOP), providing advice, and outlining measures that can be followed.

As the Managing Director of Jomas Associates, I am responsible for a team of Environmental & Geotechnical Engineers, some of whose roles involve working on construction sites. The SOP provides guidance on how construction service businesses can reassess our methodology, and for many projects, enable our teams to continue to work on site safely during the pandemic.

The full guidance can be seen here. It covers a comprehensive scope of considerations from travelling to work, to site access and rest areas, allowing all construction leaders and business owners to set up controls and measures. With reference to the SOP, the government’s letter dated 31 March 2020, asks the sector to continue to work, where safe to do so.

Jomas Associates specialises in supporting the land development process across the UK. Jomas carry out engineering and environmental surveys, including site investigations, land contamination risk assessments, geotechnical engineering assessments, flood risk assessments and environmental impact assessments. The safety of our team, and the teams of people we work with, is vital. With the outbreak of COVID-19, we have therefore been continually reassessing our working practices. Jomas have developed our own operating procedures, with reference to the CLC’s SOP, adopting a safety-first policy. Some projects are inevitably put on hold.

The SOP measures will help thousands of businesses who want to prioritise the safety of their workforce, but also continue to provide their services, to solve the nation’s housing and skills crisis.

- Roni Savage FSB Construction Chair, and Managing Director of Jomas Associates.